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The GOOD and the BAD from UK’s 80-74 win over Mississippi State

© Mark Zerof

© Mark Zerof

© Mark Zerof

Tonight, we saw the best and the worst of this Kentucky team. After blowing Mississippi State’s zone wide open in the first half, Kentucky got up by as much as 20 points in the second before trying to hand the game back over at the end. Thankfully, the Cats were 6-6 from the free throw line in the final minute to seal the 80-74 victory.

…But man, that was ugly. So ugly I can only break it down in terms of “good” and “bad.”

GOOD: Guard play

Before the season even began, we knew this was going to be a guard-oriented team; however, I don’t know if we anticipated the guards being the only good part. Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, and Isaiah Briscoe accounted for 57 of UK’s 80 points tonight, a staggering 71%.

Each guard shone in their own way: Ulis finally got into a scoring groove in the second half; Murray was on fire from the outside in the first; and Briscoe followed up a strong shooting performance with another, chipping in 14 points off 7-9 from the floor. As Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland said afterwards, Kentucky has “about as good a backcourt as you can find in the country.”

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Unfortunately, the backcourt didn’t hold up their part of the bargain.

BAD: Post play

Last Tuesday, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee disappeared at LSU, combining for four points. They returned at Alabama, scoring 33 points, easing all of our worries a little bit…until tonight. Tonight, Alex and Marcus combined for eight points, a stat line saved from complete shambles by Poythress’ four free throws in the final minute. Alex was clutch at the free throw line and Lee had nine rebounds; however, if they continue to no-show, they better pray Ulis, Murray, and Briscoe can make up for it.

Skal chipped in five points and four rebounds. His two dunks were baby steps of progress, but at this rate, I think we need to accept Skal for what he is and stop expecting a breakout game. It’s going to take time. If he’s ready by March, then great. If not, well, at least we’ll know how to cope.

A quote Calipari’s come back to a lot recently is that without post play, your team is a fraud. Well, save some spectacular guard play, Kentucky needs an audit.

GOOD: Isaiah Briscoe vs. the zone

We knew Mississippi State was going to use the 2-3 zone, and Kentucky prepared well, busting the zone open with 23 three-point attempts. Unfortunately, they only connected on nine of those, but Isaiah Briscoe did his best to tear the zone apart, slashing in the lane and kicking it out to whomever was open on the perimeter. Ben Howland was impressed.

“I thought Briscoe hurt us on his penetration, he was a very skilled passer. He was their best playmaker tonight with the ball.”

And he was hitting shots. Briscoe finished with 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. When he’s playing like that, Kentucky might be able to survive more no-shows from the big guys.

BAD: DisaPoythress

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As I mentioned earlier, Alex disappeared again tonight. Coming off a career-high 25 points at Alabama, Alex was non-existent, save some big free throws. What the hell? When asked about Alex’s play after the game, Calipari was so perturbed he refused to answer for him.

“Ask him. He’ll be out. He’ll be out, next question,” Cal said.

Later on, Cal came back to Alex on his own terms.

“I thought Alex made the free throws down the stretch and showed a lot of courage. There were things that he did. But in the guts of that game, he was not a factor, and when you’re that good, you need to be a factor.”

GOOD: Free throw shooting in the clutch

As I mentioned earlier, Kentucky was able to survive its second half collapse behind the steady hands of Tyler Ulis and Alex Poythress at the free throw line late in the game. In the final minute, Ulis and Poythress were 6-6 from the line to ensure the win, a gift from the basketball gods to make sure the Big Blue Nation didn’t go over the edge.

…However, the Cats never would have been in a position in which they needed late-game free throws if they hadn’t tried to hand the game back to Mississippi State, which brings me to my next point…

BAD: Defensive lapses

With the Cats up 20 with 14:26 to go, admit it: you got bored. Probably started thinking about what you were going to watch after the game, checking the West Virginia/Kansas score, pregaming the State of the Union, etc. Then Kentucky fell apart on defense, letting the Bulldogs back in, and causing Calipari to lose his mind on the sidelines.

“You’re up 20 and then you just — we need Dom back, badly,” Cal said. “We’re playing some guys that don’t deserve to be in there, and then you end up playing them a lot of minutes.”

According to BigBlueHistory.net, Mississippi State’s 52.9% from the field was the highest by an opponent in Rupp Arena during the Calipari era. Ouch.

GREAT: Calipari’s postgame rant

Remember our story from earlier about Calipari buying the Powerball ticket? Turns out he bought several as part of a lesson for his team. Calipari told his team over dinner last night that they each have a Powerball ticket in their pocket already: their potential. He brought this up in the postgame press conference and the radio show with Tom Leach, a rant that may have to become part of my daily affirmations.

I think Tom Leach’s face says it all:

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A win is a win, but I think Calipari spoke for all of us when he summed up this team in one, succinct, infuriating phrase.

“There are a lot of things I look at and shake my head,” Cal said, staring at the box score. “But this is what happens when you’re young.”

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

16 Comments for The GOOD and the BAD from UK’s 80-74 win over Mississippi State



  1. Long Dong Silver
    11:17 pm January 12, 2016 Permalink

    This team just isn’t going far unless someone besides Poythress and Lee can emerge. Because those two will break your heart.



    • Sentient Third Eye
      8:22 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

      At this point I just wish Poythress and Lee could get their “suck” games out of sync so they don’t happen at the same time. They can both suck every other game if they want, but at least take turns at it!



  2. Kizzy
    11:27 pm January 12, 2016 Permalink

    How many times does the lottery story need to be brought up? This year is what it is, an inbetween year, like 2013 but a little better. I believe we make the tournament. If enough stick around for next year, watch out! We win the whole thing. But very inexperienced next year, and we don’t win without Ulis, Lee at least sticking around.



  3. Denim King
    11:56 pm January 12, 2016 Permalink

    The frontcourt did not hold up their part of the bargain….

    If we have to rely on guards only we will struggle to beat ANYONE. It looked good for awhile tonight but it was way too close near the end because our shooters are streaky. If we can’t get 30 percent of our scoring out of the frontcourt we’re a mediocre SEC team. IF Poy and Lee can figure things out and do their part we have a chance against actual contenders. But i would not suggest holding your breath.



    • mobile2
      12:54 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

      IF Poy and Lee can figure things out….?????? They are what they are at this point. Poythress is the second coming of Darius Miller: incredibly talented but so damned frustrating that it drives me insane to watch them underperform. Aagghhhh!!!!!



  4. mobile2
    12:58 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    This team is a bit of a mess…not quite an Archie Goodwin mess but still a mess. A lot of times we can see the progression throughout the year (except of course for the Julius Randle year) and this team is just kind of standing still. Not bad. Not great. Not regressing. Not getting better.

    Holding pattern until next year’s studs show up. Is what it is. Happens sometimes.



  5. Angelo
    1:03 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Yeah, this is pathetic. This is awful. Let these guys go D-league…Next year has hope.



  6. fillups00
    1:15 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    I have the answer for Briscoe’s’ free throw shooting woes…. His body transformation. If you have ever shot a basketball and done any kind of lifting in your life think about it. When you lifted weights were you able to get the ball to the rim? Absolutely not. Now imagine adding 10 plus pounds of muscle to your body. It is honestly like learning how to shoot the ball all over again. Briscoe has been struggling to adjust to this new body of his. Yes these kids play ball every single day and yes they shoot that many shots a day. But shooting inside Rupp and in the Joe Craft Center is a completely different thing. He has figured out how to knock down the mid range shot off the dribble thank goodness. But just imagine you are ten pounds of muscle stronger. Do you really think your “touch” from the free throw line is going to be good? Isaiah might just be bad at free throws and shooting. But I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and let this young man grow into the new body he has worked his tail off for.



    • @BallBlog_Chad
      6:11 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

      I’ve said the same thing, add to that how much harder he has to play than in high school. Cal said the same thing to Booker when he wasn’t hitting shots, he said you’ve never guarded like this before. I think he’ll get use to the changes and it looks like his jumper is coming around.



  7. UKALLDAY1
    2:53 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Name the last Kentucky team that made it to the final 4 with NO post presence! Think about it? There hasn’t been a legit Calipari team that did not have a guy where you could just dump it down to him and he’ll get you a basket. This team does not have that guy and I think it will be a early exit if we do not figure it out. Lee and Poythress are not post threats and they aren’t ever going to be post scorers. We can not win a championship being this perimeter oriented. You know what they say, you live by the 3 and die by the 3, this team takes a lot of 3’s but they miss a lot as well. They become stagnant a lot on offense due to lack of a post presence. The ONLY one that is capable is Skal and he’s still not ready. We have to get him confident and ready to be the star we thought he was. If we don’t then we might not even win the SEC.



  8. timer2
    6:56 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Miss St. was packing in the zone. It seemed to me that on the offensive end Cal was asking Poythrees and Lee to set screens 25 ft away from the basket. I did not see one single screen set on the interior of the zone for either of them. If Cal wants them to score, he has to design plays to get them the ball.



    • SoCalCat
      7:03 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

      Exactly what I was going to post. Neither are fluid enough to take on a packed 2`3 zone.



  9. Sentient Third Eye
    8:23 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    I thought Skal made marked progress. He didn’t have huge numbers, but he positively contributed and did not hurt us when he was in (something he did frequently just a few weeks ago). He has definitely started back up the ladder.



  10. kjd
    9:08 am January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Poythress is what he has always been. Not going to change. Will not be a leader. Will not be an every game force.
    Skal is a project. He is not going to be a strong post player this year. Time to see if Wynard can be a post player for us this year. He can’t produce any less than Skal, and maybe he gives us more.



  11. UKFanBG
    2:17 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Although players with that kind of talent should not need to be led, I think Poythress and Lee need to be brought into the game early by set plays and guards getting them involved. Pick and roll, screens away from the ball to set them up, inside out plays, etc. Just seems like they both stand around too much and don’t get into the flow of the game.



  12. old coyote
    5:38 pm January 13, 2016 Permalink

    Relax,this is what a packed in 2/3 zone is supposed to accomplish. Unless your bigs are shot creators(ours are not) then you have to rely on your guards for shots. Alex, Marcus and Skal took 7 shots combined our starting guards took 37. Guess where your point production is going to come from.
    As soon as Cal makes a few “tweaks” we will be fine, lets just hope it’s sooner rather than later!